Vacation Rental Management for busy people!

http://www.myvrzone.com/home/uploads/images/payments.png

How to take Credit Card Payments for your Vacation Rental

Online Payment

So, you figure that it would be good to accept credit cards from your guests for payments and are thinking of applying for a merchant account. Excellent - life will be simpler for you and the guests!

Have you thought about how you would actually take the credit card information for a payment? It's not always obvious what options you have and how that may affect what you need to do. Note that there is no requirement that you have a physical machine (Terminal) to process credit cards - you can process payments online instead with a Virtual Terminal.

There are a few payment scenarios that may apply to you - take a look at the requirements and consequences of each below.

NOTE: There are strict requirements on the handling and storing of Credit Card information that all agree to in their merchant account agreements. If you keep paper or electronic copies of any important information (eg. the full credit card number, the expiration date, the security number) then you have obligations to ensure that the information cannot be stolen.

i) Swipe their credit card

This method would require a "Physical Terminal" and the credit card to be present. This is not a common scenario in our industry as so many owners are not on-site but for those that are:

Pro's

  1. Lower processing rate - it will cost you less compared to processing a card that is not physically present
  2. If you buy the machine up-front then you can avoid monthly rental fees

Con's

  1. Must have the card physically present
  2. May be expensive to buy up-front or require additional programming fees
  3. Need to take it with you when you travel if you want to process payments while away
  4. You and the guest must be personally available to take payments
  5. Payments must be entered into any management tool you are using by hand - an opportunity for error

ii) Enter the guest's information on their behalf

This method would require either a Physical Terminal (as above) or a "Virtual" Terminal that your merchant account should provide. Regular merchant accounts provide Virtual Terminals (note that PayPal charges $30 per month for this at the time of writing this).

With a Physical Terminal you will not get the lower rate so there is usually little benefit to having one if the card is not physically present - from here on we will focus on using the Virtual Terminal.

When the owner enters ccard information into the online Virtual Terminal for payment:

Pro's

  1. Good for guests that are not web-savvy.

Con's

  1. If taking the information over the phone:
  2. You and the guest must be personally available to take the payments.
  3. You may make mistakes in entering the data.
  4. If taking the information in a written form:
  5. You need to create a form for capturing the information.
  6. The form must be sent, completed, signed and returned - by email, fax or mail.
  7. Payments must be entered into any management tool you are using by hand - another opportunity for error.
  8. If you keep copies of any ccard information then you are obligated to keep it secure

iii) Direct guests to an online payment page

For regular merchant providers some method is often provided for this - usually via some links that can be put on your website or an API (Application Programming Interface) that allows more control at the expense of more up-front work. I talk about these in the next sections.

Pro's

  1. Convenience for you and the guest - they can make the payment at any time they want.
  2. It's possible to have the payment go into a management system with suitable integration.
  3. You can still make payments on behalf of the guest if they are not web-savvy.
  4. You have no personal ccard information security obligations (provided the online system does not send you the secure card information)

Con's

  1. Depending on the way this is implemented, it may be confusing for guests. You need to make sure that the payment process flows well.

So, how to you get and use an Online Payments page?

Most people opt for an online payment method as it provides the most flexibility for the owner and the guest. There are typically 3 ways to do this.

  1. Direct guests to a 3rd party website to process the payments (this is how PayPal want you to operate).
  2. Integrate a 3rd party Shopping Cart in to your own website.
  3. Use a custom form on your own website and implement the API connectivity.

1) Direct guests to a 3rd party website to process the payments

Pro's

  1. All you need to do is include a link in an email or on your website
  2. May be possible to integrate into a management system in terms of getting the payment itself recorded

Con's

  1. There's no easy way to set the amount owed - the guest will have to enter it and get it right
  2. The site with the payments page will not look like your website or have much to indicate who the payment is to and for what. This is the biggest issue - it can be confusing and the guest may already be nervous about paying a stranger online for a VR that they have never seen.
  3. Any management tools integration will not include the ability to do Void, Refund and Auth transactions inside the tool itself - you will need to do those directly by logging in to your merchant account

2) Integrate a 3rd party Shopping Cart in to your own website

A shopping Cart is something you will have used when buying products online. Usually, those shopping carts are specifically designed for that site and very well integrated. To get a shopping cart onto your own website you would choose a 3rd party cart that can be integrated - some level of customization will be available to try to get it to fit in with your own site colors etc but it will be limited. As these carts are designed to work with any website then it will not look as integrated as the one on Amazon.com! Be sure to understand where the final payment is made - some carts will collect the information on your site and then take the guest to another site for the actual payment.

Pro's

  1. The information collected is now on your website, so looks consistent and more reassuring
  2. Shopping carts can be free and often supplied by your web hosting company (you still need to put them on your website where you want them but this is usually not a difficult task)
  3. May be possible to integrate into a management system in terms of getting the payment itself recorded

Con's

  1. Shopping carts are designed for selecting items and then paying for them - all you really want is a payments page so the process will be a little awkward for the guest and seem to have unnecessary steps.
  2. It's not even clear that this can really work unless your cart supports some kind of free-form amount entry because you are not selling a product with a set price. Check the cart carefully for this ability
  3. Some effort is needed from you or your web designer to get the cart running and looking OK
  4. Some carts take the information on your site then take the use to another site for processing the payment
  5. You need to have a secure website (an SSL certificate)
  6. Any management tools integration will not include the ability to do Void, Refund and Auth transactions inside the tool itself - you will need to do those directly by logging in to your merchant account

3) Use a custom form on your own website and implement the API connectivity

Low level server programming is required (PHP or ASP.NET usually) so you'll need someone with web development skills to do that as well as Design skills for the ccard information capture form.

Pro's

  1. No compromise - get just what you want - a credit card payment form on your own website
  2. No guest confusion - no unnecessary steps and all on your own website keeps the confidence
  3. Can be fully integrated into a management tool - including issuing Void, Refund and Auth transactions from within the tool itself - avoiding the need to log in directly to your merchant accout

Con's

  1. You need to have a secure website (an SSL certificate)
  2. Web Developer and Designer time is required - can be a few days of work, depending on the API

Conclusions

Ideally, the custom form on your own website would be the best end result for you and your guests - it's just that it's the most complicated to implement! Do you really need to go get a secure (SSL) certificate for your own website - it's more expense and not always simple to do?

Well, as usual, MyVRZone.com makes life easy for you...

MyVRZone.com does the difficult part for you

With MyVRZone.com you have 2 options for taking credit card payments that make it easy for you to use. All you need is to use one of the integrated credit card gateways:

  1. CDGComm (Quantum gateway)
  2. eComm (Authorize.net gateway)

Then you can choose one of the following options...

a) Direct your guests to the secure Guest Zone to make payments

The Guest Zone is a secure version of the website provided for you by MyVRZone.com (called the Mini-site) - designed for Guests to access their reservation 24/7 and make payments online, print receipts etc. There's no advertising and no links to other properties - see this example payments page.

Pro's

  1. All you need is a link to the unique URL for the Guest Zone
  2. The Guest Zone is all about you and your property - so no guest confusion
  3. It's just a payments page - enter ccard info and submit
  4. No personal obligation to keep ccard information secure:
    1. No secure ccard information is stored by myvrzone or sent to you in the email notification
  5. If using the management tools integration then:
    1. Voids, Refunds and Auths can be done from the reservation (as supported by the chosen gateway's API)
    2. All of the amounts and contact information are pre-filled for the guest

Con's

  1. It's not on your own website

b) Integrate the supplied payments page on your own website with an IFRAME

This would put/embed just the payments page or the whole Guest Zone into your own website so that it looks like it was your own page.

Pro's

  1. It's on your website
  2. No personal obligation to keep ccard information secure:
    1. No secure ccard information is stored by myvrzone or sent to you in the email notification
  3. If using the management tools integration then:
    1. Voids, Refunds and Auths can be done from the reservation (provided the gateway supports them)
    2. All of the amounts and contact information are pre-filled for the guest

Con's

  1. You still need your own secure SSL certificate for the website
  2. If using the management tools integration then a little more web work is required to pass the reservation information to the IFRAME. This is not difficult and can be done with a little knowledge of javascript, PHP or ASP.NET etc.

Recommendation

  1. Start off with the Guest Zone model as it's the easiest - add a link to your own website or in your emails
  2. Migrate to integrating this into your own website once you are happy with the way it's working
    I can perform the integration on your site if needed

Please contact me by email here or leave a comment below if you have any questions about this or need guidance for your particular situation.